Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Florentine architect, one of the initiators of the Italian Renaissance. His revival of classical forms and his championing of an architecture based on mathematics, proportion, and perspective make him a key artistic figure in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era.
Brunelleschi was born in Florence in 1377 and received his early training as an artisan in silver and gold. In 1401 he entered, and lost, the famous design competition for the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. He then turned to architecture and in 1418 received the commission to execute the dome of the unfinished Gothic Cathedral of Florence, also called the Duomo. The dome, a great innovation both artistically and technically, consists of two octagonal vaults, one inside the other. Its shape was dictated by its structural needs—one of the first examples of architectural functionalism. Brunelleschi made a design feature of the necessary eight ribs of the vault, carrying them over to the exterior of the dome, where they provide the framework for the dome's decorative elements, which also include architectural reliefs, circular windows, and a beautifully proportioned cupola. This was the first time that a dome created the same strong effect on the exterior as it did on the interior.
In other buildings, such as the Medici Church of San Lorenzo (1418-28) and the foundling hospital called the Ospedale degli Innocenti (1421-55), Brunelleschi devised an austere, geometric style inspired by the art of ancient Rome. Completely different from the emotional, elaborate Gothic mode that still prevailed in his time, Brunelleschi's style emphasized mathematical rigor in its use of straight lines, flat planes, and cubic spaces. This “wall architecture,” with its flat facades, set the tone for many of the later buildings of the Florentine Renaissance.
Later in his career, notably in the unfinished Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (begun 1434), the Basilica of Santo Spirito (begun 1436), and the Pazzi Chapel (begun c. 1441), he moved away from this linear, geometric style to a somewhat more sculptural, rhythmic style. In the first of these buildings, for instance, the interior was formed not by flat walls, but by massive niches opening from a central octagon. This style, with its expressive interplay of solids and voids, was the first step toward an architecture that led eventually to the baroque.
Brunelleschi was also an important innovator in other areas. Along with the painter Masaccio, he was one of the first Renaissance masters to rediscover the laws of scientific perspective. He executed two perspective paintings (now lost), probably between 1415 and 1420, and he is also credited with having painted the architectural background in one of Masaccio's early works.
His influence on his contemporaries and immediate followers was very strong and has been felt even in the 20th century, when modern architects came to revere him as the first great exponent of rational architecture. Brunelleschi died in Florence in 1446.